By Dr. Tracy Munsil, Executive Director | Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University
Our nation is facing a potential moral freefall unthinkable to earlier generations—with a majority of Americans today no longer embracing values of honesty, respect for the rule of law, the sanctity of life, and traditional sexual morality when facing moral issues.
Ongoing research from the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University paints a bleak picture of our nation’s radically shifting moral landscape, with Americans no longer looking to biblical truth for moral guidance and increasingly rejecting traditional values that have defined us as a nation since our founding.
The latest release from CRC’s American Worldview Inventory 2020 finds that less than one-third of American adults rely on religious faith (29%) when making moral choices. They are just as likely to rely on either other people (30%) or their own personal beliefs, feelings or experiences (31%).
As a result, as a nation we are radically redrawing moral boundaries. For example, those surveyed were more likely to say it is morally unacceptable to renege on repaying a small debt to a relative (61%) than to have an abortion (44%). Less than half (47%) said it was morally unacceptable to tell a lie to protect their personal interest or reputation, with 19% saying it was morally acceptable and 13% saying it was not a moral issue.
According to ACU President Len Munsil, “The consequences of rejecting God’s truth are undeniable. We know that what we believe dictates how we behave. Today we are seeing the moral breakdown permeating the culture around us, and it is playing out with devastating consequences in our culture.”
The research shows this seismic shift occurring even among people of faith. Although born-again Christians in the survey were three times as likely to rely on the Bible for primary moral guidance, less than half (48%) do so. Those most likely to rely upon a religious resource, usually the Bible, were those aligned with either an evangelical (58%) or Pentecostal church (62%). People associated with a mainline Protestant congregation were most likely to rely upon themselves for moral wisdom (34%). Catholics were most likely to turn to others (34%).
The latest findings of the American Worldview Inventory 2020 show that political ideology dramatically affects Americans’ sources of moral guidance. Political conservatives were most likely to rely upon the Bible (40%), while moderates (17%) and liberals (11%) were least likely, instead relying on their own feelings, beliefs, and knowledge for moral direction.
Perhaps most troubling, the findings regarding the moral views of the youngest generation indicate this downward moral trajectory is likely to continue. Americans age 18 to 29 are least likely—only 15%—to turn to the Bible for moral guidance and instead look to themselves (29%) or to family (25%). This compares with about one-quarter of older Americans, including 23% of those ages 30 to 49, 25% of those 50 to 64, and 26% of those over 64.
Even though young people reject the Bible as a source of moral guidance, hidden within the study’s findings may be some encouraging news. As Munsil explained. “A sizeable percentage of young people still look to their family for moral guidance. It’s important for parents and other family members to look for opportunities to share moral truth because the next generation wants to hear from them.”
According to Dr. George Barna, CRC Director of Research, “Americans have been aggressively redefining the nation’s morality for the past several decades. That shift is still in progress. Our research provides a compelling context for such a moral recalibration.”
“The percentage of adults with a biblical worldview has been sliced in half since 1995,” the veteran researcher explained. “The historic foundation of biblical truth and its impacts on family, faith, education, arts and entertainment, and public policy is mostly a distant memory,” Barna said. “Unless Christian churches return to the basics to restore the foundations of the Christian faith, and parents train their children to embrace those foundations, there is little reason to believe that the coming quarter-century in America will include our historical levels of freedom.”
The study asks those surveyed to respond to five moral issues, including questions about repaying a debt, lying to protect one’s reputation, abortion, following the speed limit, and engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage. Here are key findings from these questions:
- The obligation to repay a debt was the most clear-cut in the minds of survey respondents, with six out of ten adults (61%) stated that the intentional failure to repay the loan was morally unacceptable.
- Slightly less than half of adults (47%) described what is popularly known as a “white lie” or a “fib” as morally unacceptable, while one-third (32%) said such an act is either morally acceptable (19%) or not a moral issue (13%).
- Abortion was indisputably the most polarizing of the five moral issues tested, with 44% saying having an abortion is morally unacceptable while 33% said it is either morally acceptable (22%) or not a moral issue (11%). Nine out of ten adults with a biblical worldview (92%) and eight out of ten SAGE Cons (83%) defined it as an immoral action. At the other end of the continuum—indicating that having an abortion is not immoral—were spiritual skeptics (17%), political liberals (22%), and adults connected to a non-Christian faith (29%).
- Surprisingly few of those surveyed portrayed speeding as immoral. About four out of ten adults (39%) believe that breaking the speed limit is not morally acceptable.
- When asked their view on engaging in “sexual relations with someone that they love and expect to marry in the future,” a majority (56%) of Americans perceive this behavior to be either morally acceptable (38%) or not a moral issue (18%). Just half as many (27%) say this is morally unacceptable.
The results of this latest CRC research continue to focus attention on the need to restore biblical truth in American culture. As Barna explained, “The restoration of biblical truth can facilitate the turnaround of a declining society.”
The latest AWVI 2020 release, “Perceptions of Morality & Moral Choices,” are available here.